Trust Key in U.S.-Pakistani Relations
Faqir Syed Asif Hussain talks with Maj. Brent Hierman prior to his presentation. -- VMI Photo by Kevin Remington.
LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 28, 2011 – Faqir Syed Asif Hussain, consul general of Pakistan at the Consulate General in New York, said he believes it’s possible for the U.S. and Pakistan to mend their frayed relationship, but it will take time and a renewed spirit of cooperation. Hussain discussed the topic with cadets, faculty, and area residents in Preston Library Oct. 27.
“In my opinion the trust deficit is the number one factor; we need to improve dialogue, but we also need rules of engagement, some kind of written agreement on how to proceed,” said Hussain, who thinks the two countries have returned diplomatically to “square one.”
Maj. Brent Hierman, assistant professor of international studies, moderated the discussion, much of which focused on identifying and assessing the steps both the U.S. and Pakistan can take to re-establish trust and cooperation on issues related to counter-terrorism and the war in Afghanistan.
Louis Blair, director of the VMI’s National Security Program, said one purpose of the discussion was to help people understand the Afghanistan conflict and the struggle against terrorism from a Pakistani perspective. Blair, who holds the Mary Moody Northen Visiting Professor Chair, said in the past 12 months Pakistan has endured 2,000 terrorist or insurgent attacks that have killed more than 4,000 citizens and security forces members.
Cadets in Blair’s U.S, Pakistan and Afghanistan course and Hierman’s Politics of Central Asia class prepared questions for Hussain, who was making his fourth visit to the Institute, accompanied by his wife, Saeeda.
Cadet Andrea Baker ’12 wanted to know what the U.S. could do to rebuild the American-Pakistani relationship while assuring the Pakistani people that the U.S. is “in it for the long run,” a reference to the sentiment held by many Pakistanis that the U.S. abandoned them after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Other cadets were interested in hearing how the expected U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan in 2014 may impact Pakistani strategic planning.
Cadet Greg Olson ’13 asked Hussain how the U.S. and Pakistan could work to ensure a stable Afghan government which would promote regional peace.
“What we need now is a political surge,” Hussain said. “We have had a military surge, now it’s time for a political surge but I haven’t seen it yet.”
Hussain also stressed the need for economic development in Afghanistan and the need to wean Afghan farmers from the dependence of growing opium.
“Someone who doesn’t have a job is more likely to become a suicide bomber than someone who is employed,” Hussain said, adding that drug profits are the “lifeline of the Taliban.”
Ultimately the Afghan people will have to take control of their own affairs as the U.S. moves toward withdrawal from Afghanistan, Hussain said.
“It is up to the U.S. to create an atmosphere where this transition can happen,” Hussain said. “We [Pakistan] have to manage our own affairs. I think the U.S. is asking too much of us. We can’t send soldiers to Afghanistan.”
The evening conversation with Hussain also touched on counter-terrorism and nuclear weapons, as well as Pakistani regional relations: whether the international community can assist in the resolution over the continuing Indian-Pakistani conflict in Kashmir and perspectives on the growing importance of China in the region.
“I hope that cadets come away from this evening’s discussion with a fuller understanding of the complexity and multi-faceted nature of U.S.-Pakistani relations,” Hierman said. “My hope is that with this understanding, cadets will recognize that there are no easy solutions to fix the often messy alliance between the United States and Pakistan.”
The event was sponsored by VMI’s National Security Program and Department of International Studies.